Monday, December 07, 2009

Personal Lasting Impact Of Sexual Violence

My lingering wound from being raped might not be visible but it will always be with me and has had a permanent impact on my life. This is something I forget at times.

During the reception for the Minnesota Summit I was thinking with a slight bit of smugness that I had worked my way to being completely past the PTSD portion of my trauma, but what I felt Saturday night took me right back there.

On Saturday evening I was briefly overwhelmed with the type of feelings which near the 1 year anniversary of my rape caused me to have what seemed to be an unexplainable crying jag.

Back then the trigger wasn't a specific date but the arrival of spring and students beginning the countdown to the end of the school year. That anticipation of summer was linked emotionally with my being raped. That same spring I almost died of alcohol poisoning. The need for relief from an overpowering physiological response made me not care about anything but relief from my inner pain. After that experience with alcohol poisoning, I coped by blocking thoughts and feelings to the point that at times I felt like I no longer had any deep emotions. That got me through some rough times but at a high cost.

I'm glad that I'm able to connect with all of who I am and therefore able again to truly connect with others, but that connection allows pain as well as joy.

On Saturday it was something that was no more threatening intrinsically than the coming of spring, but it tapped into feelings associated with the knowledge of potentially dangerous situations that most people either never think about or can tune out. It has been 35 years since I was raped, but the impact of that rape was able to swamp me.

This isn't helped by the continuing presence of victim blaming where not viewing every man who promises to respect your boundaries as a likely rapist is described as being not a victim of a rapist but a "victim of your own awful judgment" and where the actions of a rapist are minimized to the point where we need to defer to rapists before defining rape as rape.

Because this was a physiological response, logic and understanding couldn't make that response go away. However, because I now understand what is going on I have better means to cope with this response. I know that if the trigger repeats I will need to adjust my life to eliminate or reduce the trigger and that this need says nothing negative about me as a person.

This isn't running away or cowardice, it is self-care. This self-care can be limiting in ways that don't make sense to people who do not acknowledge or understand the lasting damage that can done by rape. As I look back at some of the decisions I made which at that time I labeled as irrational, I see they were rational and linked directly to my trauma.

I try to balance everything while being connected to my trauma, but there will be times when that is so very difficult. These are the times when I just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other until I get through the rough times.

This reality which many people continue to deny is why primary prevention of sexual harm is imperative to me. Nobody deserves this kind of trauma and it is not the consequence of wrongly assuming other people are not rapists any more than being hit head on is the consequence of assuming that trucks on the freeway won't cross the median and strike you head on.
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posted by Marcella Chester @ 11:41 AM   12 comments links to this post


At December 07, 2009 1:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It has been almost 27 years since I was raped and as I approach the anniversary, I still cope with feelings of sadness and isolation similar to those I felt after the rape. I was beating myself up last week for being weak while telling myself at the same time that my self-castigation was senseless. My mind knows I don't need to punish myself for something that was never my fault, but the rest of me is still not completely convinced all the time. I believe that will the work of a lifetime.

At December 07, 2009 1:43 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...


Thank you for sharing your feelings of sadness and isolation. Please know that you are not alone and that any weakness you have is caused by your trauma and those who continue to compound survivors' trauma.

Your self-castigation makes perfect sense since we are taught that this is correct by so many people who claim to care about our best interests.

At December 07, 2009 2:43 PM, Blogger Anemone said...

Marcella, I'm impressed that you can blog about rape at all. I couldn't do it.

I think the memory of what happened to me will stay in my body forever. Lately I've taken up a new sport that requires me to move differently, at my body's request, and every time when I come home I cry, because of all the grief buried in my body that wants out. My body hasn't worked right in decades, partly because I'm frozen in grief.

At December 07, 2009 3:53 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...


I've found that I can blog about rape because doing so helps others like myself and annoys those who enable rape in little or big ways.

At December 07, 2009 5:02 PM, Blogger Georgia Girl said...

For me, it has been nearly 48 years. It was such a brutal rape that I actually repressed the memories until 2006. Posts like today really bring on the tears because of the pain we all have in common. God bless each of you.

At December 07, 2009 5:26 PM, Blogger Prudence said...

Marcella, I echo comments here admiring how you blog about rape. You raise so many topical reminders of how we keep on having to struggle with ignorance and acceptance of sexual violence everyday. No wonder it gets to you sometimes. You are extremely brave going through the volume of news items and publications which must make you feel attacked all over again. I know I couldn't do it. It's an amazing thing that you do here, but please look after yourself as well. Take care - Pru :-)

At December 09, 2009 2:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It has been a little over a year since I was raped. I recently had a doctor tell me that it was normal to be "over it" 6 months after it happened, and that if I wasn't "over it" yet I needed medication. Thank you for writing this post. I know that what happened to me is something I will never "get over" but rather something I will have to live with for the rest of my life, and I don't need people telling me that not being okay with the horribly traumatic thing that happened to me makes me in some way abnormal.

At December 09, 2009 2:41 PM, Anonymous snobographer said...

'...not viewing every man who promises to respect your boundaries as a likely rapist is described as being not a victim of a rapist but a "victim of your own awful judgment"'

And if you do assume every man's a potential rapist, the same people have a big problem with that too.

'[rape] is not the consequence of wrongly assuming other people are not rapists any more than being hit head on is the consequence of assuming that trucks on the freeway won't cross the median'

I'll be so very using this from now on.

At December 09, 2009 6:23 PM, Blogger Prudence said...

Rather a few too many double negatives there for me to understand. But basically what I would say I've been thinking about recently is wondering how women who haven't been raped deal with unwanted attention and men badgering them. I was recently badgered by a man who I thought was a friend, but was drunk or on something and quite insistent. I knocked him back over and over again and then eventually felt compelled to give in. I've been able to view this differently since reading the various site I follow about rape, especially yours here Marcella, and I have to say that I can now see how his actions were wrong, just in the normal course of things, not as any kind of rape situation. I feel like I have a bigger reaction to things because of being raped, where other women would just be firm and just think he's a bit of a jerk, but nothing more sinister. I feel there are many grey areas which I just don't see because I see the very darkest intentions straight away. This isn't my fault though, this is my particular personality now. This is who I am and anyone hitting on me should accept that reaction as a normal reaction. I should be allowed to be freaked out and over-react. It's within the normal bounds.

Anonymous (of Dec 9) you should NEVER let anyone tell you that you should be over this. It's tempting to wish that you are over it, but you should do this in your own time. It's like grief. you are grieving for a lost part of yourself now, as well as finding it incredibly difficult fitting back in to normal life and into the sorts of situations which it brings up. Maybe there is a thought that drugs might help you sleep if that's a proble,m, but try some natural remedies instead. These are knee-jerk remedies which are suggested to quieten your head, to deaden your emotions, but they won't help you work through them. You need to stay in control of your recovery. If you want to blank it all out for now, then by all means do that, but just don't get lost in the system somewhere.

I don't want to tell you what to do either, who am I to do that? But perhaps the best thing to do is to try to get the widest view that you can and the most advice that you can get from different sources to help you make the most informed decision that you can about the course of your recovery.

The best thing I've ever done is blogging and telling my story. If you want somewhere to tell it then by all means send me it to put on to my blog, or Marcella might do that for you as well? (I don't know if she has guest writers)

Take care anyway :-)

At December 09, 2009 9:14 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Thanks to all of my fellow survivors for your kind words and for sharing your experiences. We've come a long way, but we still have a way to go.

At December 10, 2009 8:42 PM, Blogger sophie said...

Thanks Marcella.

At December 14, 2009 7:05 PM, Anonymous Sarah said...

Sharing what you are going through in your blog posts is a difficult thing to do - thank you for speaking out about the ongoing trauma of rape. You have a voice (and an understanding of the issues surrounding sexual violence) and you are using it to increase awareness and true understanding.

I think many people who haven't been there (myself included) can underestimate the effects of rape or sexual assault. That doctor who told Anonymous that she would be over it in "6 months" (and if not, to take medication) had a sickeningly typical understanding of the effects of sexual violence.


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